Tips for Artists: How to Sell Art
Directly to Collectors and Other Buyers
All artists at various times in their careers have opportunities to sell their art directly to collectors or other interested parties-- either privately from their studios or publicly at open studios, art walks, art fairs and the like. The following tips and pointers, in no particular order, are designed to help any artist maximize the potential for positive outcomes in one-on-one encounters with anyone who's thinking about buying their art...
* Make sure everyone who visits your studio, booth or space feels welcome and comfortable around your art. Be available to answer their questions; give them a feel for how you work and what life in the studio is like. Have your bio, exhibition history, statement and other relevant printed materials available on hand for anyone to read or take with them.
* When people ask you about your art, keep explanations simple and avoid lecturing, correcting misconceptions, or pummeling them with art words (unless someone expresses interest in having a longer or more complicated conversation). If the event is public, keep an eye on the throngs to make sure that everyone who looks like they want a little attention gets it.
* Set aside a portion of your studio or space to show finished work-- clean and clear of clutter. The more closely you can approximate an actual gallery setting, the better. People have an easier time appreciating and understanding the impact of finished works when they can focus on them without outside interference. At the very least, have a place where a potential buyer can "be alone" with the art they're interested in. A painting hanging on a newly painted wall, nicely lit and isolated from other art is far more compelling than that same painting sitting on the floor of your studio or propped on a table surrounded by tons of other paintings.
* Keep the selection simple; don't haul out everything you've ever created. The "kitchen sink" approach only confuses people and makes your studio look more like a jumble sale than a gallery. Focus on a particular body of work (or two or three) and sequester the rest.
* If someone insists on seeing the full range of your work, perhaps invite them back later, or if traffic is slow, bring out select pieces and see how they respond. Avoid letting buyers range freely; all they'll do is get confused and probably make a mess.
* Let people form their own opinions, no matter what you personally think of what they're looking at or how they're looking at it. Only get into explaining or interpreting particular works of art when asked, and whatever you do, don't argue or talk down to anyone. If someone experiences your art it in ways other than how you intend for it to be experienced, fine. Not everyone's perspective is identical; not everyone's impressions or reactions are identical.
* When people interested in your art state preferences, offer to show additional examples of those types of work. If you try to push them in directions other than where they want to go, you decrease your chances of making sales and increase the chances of distracting or confusing them. Remember that every person's tastes are unique. Let them control the showing.
* Some buyers mention names of other artists they have in their collections. No matter what you may think of these artists or their work, respond positively, and avoid making comparisons or value judgments between your work and theirs. Going negative at any time or about any other artist's art always decreases your chances of making sales.
* Be sensitive to buyers with modest budgets, especially those who clearly like your art. Make every effort to sell to every single person who likes your art enough ask prices. In other words, have art available in a variety of price ranges for a variety of budgets. Your goal is to get your art out into the public, and as much of it as possible. Always remember-- your art is your billboard, your business card; the more of it you have out there, the greater the numbers of people who see it, and the greater your chances of selling more art later.
* Allow hesitant buyers to take artworks home on approval for a week or maybe two and return them for any reason if they decide not to add them to their collections (assuming they pay in full or at least leave reasonable deposits ahead of time). Deciding what art to buy is not easy for many people and they appreciate having extra time to live with your art, experience it, and decide in private whether it's really right for them.
* Offer to show selections of your work in collectors' homes or offices. The easier you make it for people to see your art, the greater your chances of making sales. People feel more indebted to you when you extend these sorts of courtesies.
* Offer to deliver art at no charge when buyers can't transport it themselves (assuming reasonable distances from your studio).
* Set all selling prices ahead of time and make sure they're clearly visible either on the art itself or on price lists. Never waffle around about how much you want for your art or try to make up prices on the spot. Any hesitancy or uncertainty in pricing gives buyers the idea that prices vary according to your whims or that different people get quoted different prices for reasons known only to you. Can you imagine going into a store and seeing no prices on anything they have for sale? You wouldn't feel very comfortable about buying or even asking, would you?
* Make sure your prices are consistent and that you're able to clearly explain how you price your art to anyone who asks. Common artist mistakes include pricing similar artworks at very different prices based primarily on intangible criteria such as how much they like them, or pricing large works disproportionately to small ones.
* Clearly mark all pieces that are not for sale "NFS". Better yet, hide them (and hide any sold works as well). Buyers tend to get disappointed when the art they like the most turns out to be either sold or not available for purchase.
* Price comparably or somewhat less than what other artists with your level of experience and qualifications charge for their art, assuming their art is similar in certain ways to yours. Like it or not, you're in competition with other artists, especially at open studios, art walks or similar events where numerous artists show at once. Put another way, buyers have options and often consider the works of multiple artists before they go ahead and buy, and in those instances where a buyer likes two or more works equally well, they'll likely choose the one that's most affordable.
* Don't base selling prices on your current financial situation, whatever that may be. If, for example, your studio rent is due, don't decide that that's the minimum amount of money someone has to pay for whatever they're interested in. Prices must remain constant, consistent and entirely related to the art in order to instill confidence in buyers about you and your work.
* Don't confuse selling prices with self-esteem, like thinking that the more money you sell for, the better that makes you as an artist. You'll run into problems if you get too involved or emotional when the time comes to hammer out money issues. No matter how much you end up selling something for, it's still exactly the same piece of art and you're still exactly the same artist.
* Either keep your prices the same as what you typically sell your art for or lower them somewhat, especially at open studios or other limited time events. Many people shop for art directly from artists in order to save a little money. Whatever you do, don't raise prices. That's hardly ever a good idea (unless you have a really good reason that any prospective buyer will understand). The object is to sell art and leave buyers happy enough to maybe come back for more at later dates. The last thing you want to do is make people wince about buying it.
* Be flexible. If a buyer wants to negotiate a price and is capable of doing so in an inoffensive, respectful and appropriate manner, seriously consider lowering it perhaps ten to twenty percent. You're under no obligation, however, to work with anyone who is rude, insulting, or wants to buy your work for nothing.
* Avoid overemphasizing the personal attachment or significance of any work of art that someone wants to buy. Don't act like they're ripping your heart out or absconding with your first-born. They're not buying your mind, your soul, or your essence. He's buying your art. You can always make more.
* Go easy at all times on anyone interested in your art. Pressuring people hardly ever gets you anywhere. People sometimes need and appreciate having a little time or a little space in order to make up their minds, so give it to them.
* Allow buyers to pay over time or make cash/trade arrangements (assuming you have a use for what they have to barter).
* Be clear and firm in situations involving any type of payment plan (better yet, get paid in full up front). If this is something you're not sure about, structure yourself a policy in advance so that you can explain exactly what it is to anyone who asks. Part of that plan, for example, might be to keep the art until it's paid for. At the very least, have buyers sign agreements that state when each payment is due and how much it will be.
* Be prepared to provide buyers with written statements, documentation, and explanations that give them additional insight into who you are and what the art that's being purchased is all about. People really appreciate these sorts of amenities. Galleries can only give receipts and secondary documentation; you can make it personal.
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